WU/FUSED student survey finds socioeconomic diversity lacking

| Contributing Reporter
(Brittany Meyer | Student Life)

(Brittany Meyer | Student Life)

The average household income of a Washington University undergraduate student is around $180,000, according to a recent survey of 520 undergraduates conducted by Washington University Students for Undergraduate Socioeconomic Diversity.

The survey also found that many University students self-identify in social classes lower than the ones in which members of the group (WU/FUSED) classify them.

According to group co-chair senior Fernando Cutz, WU/FUSED uses U.S. Census Bureau data to define “lower class” as the 15 percent of Americans who make the least amount of money, “middle class” as the middle 70 percent, and “upper class” as the top 15 percent. Based on 2006 census data, WU/FUSED defines students from households with an income greater than $104,000 as upper class.

By this definition, 44 percent of University students are upper class, but only 8.3 percent of students self-identify as such, according to the survey.

“This shows that socio-economic diversity is not only severely lacking at Wash. U. as compared to our society at large (and as compared to other universities around the country), but that we as a student body aren’t adequately aware of this or of our own place in this,” Cutz wrote in an e-mail.

According to James Morley, associate professor of economics, comparing the average household income of University students with the national average can be misleading. Morley said a better comparison would be between the average undergraduate household and the average household with children going to college.

“The national average covers a huge range of different types of households, including retirees, younger families,” Morley said. “Typically, household income is highest—in the life-cycle sense—when people are middle-aged and when their children are around college-aged.”

The survey also found that while only 52 percent of students self-identify as “upper middle class,” 76 percent believe the average University student falls under this category.

In other words, many students self-identify in a class lower than the one they perceive to be the average social class of University students.

(Brittany Meyer | Student Life)

(Brittany Meyer | Student Life)

The survey was conducted using the online survey tool StudentVoice. Students were recruited for the survey through e-mails sent out to the student body by class presidents.

The survey drew roughly 60 percent female and 40 percent male respondents from all four years, with about 25 percent sophomores and seniors, 33 percent freshmen and 17 percent juniors. Respondents were given the opportunity to check multiple ethnicities in the survey, and out of 520 responses, the students identified as 65 percent white/Caucasian, 13 percent Asian, 9 percent black/African American and 5 percent Hispanic.

WU/FUSED members on socioeconomic diversity

Members of WU/FUSED say they want to stimulate conversations about socioeconomic diversity on campus.

“I think that ‘socioeconomic’ is sometimes a taboo to talk about anywhere, and so the issue of socioeconomic diversity is not touched by the administration and by the students, but it is a very important aspect of diversity,” said sophomore Kirsten Miller, a WU/FUSED member.

Some suggest that the University’s steep tuition label deters students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds from applying.

“The sticker shock is something that scares students a lot,” said senior Chase Sackett, co-chair of WU/FUSED. “But for most of these private institutions like Washington University, it is actually cheaper for the average student to attend one of these schools because of the financial aid, which students are often not aware of.”

In an effort to increase socioeconomic diversity at the University, WU/FUSED plans to educate high school students about financial options and work with organizations such as Student Financial Services to make the University seem more welcoming to these students.

“By making it comfortable enough an institution that they can come and ask questions and actually apply, that’s the first step to actually increase socioeconomic diversity on campus,” said sophomore Betel Ezaz, WU/FUSED member.

Beyond targeting students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds, WU/FUSED also aspires to raise awareness about socioeconomic diversity among the entire student body.

In addition to conducting the survey, WU/FUSED will connect with cultural, religious and international student groups and service groups such as Lock & Chain, Alpha Phi Omega and Each One Teach One to promote awareness about socioeconomic diversity.

“Our goal is really to reach out to other groups and try to co-sponsor events so that we are reaching a broader segment of our campus than us by ourselves can reach,” Cutz said.

With many future plans ahead, WU/FUSED shares the inspiration for and the importance of their endeavor.

“Sometimes it is hard to make people care about an issue, but the first step is to make sure that they are aware,” Ezaz said. “Awareness can pique interest and start the conversation we need on campus.”

Morley supports the efforts of WU/FUSED, saying: “There is a danger of too little diversity; college can become a bubble where people don’t see the full extent of the economic struggles that the broader population is going through, especially at a time like now with the recent severe economic recession.”

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